Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Flawed analogies for street harassment

There are some people in the world who think catcalling and street harassment aren't actual problems.  For the purpose of brevity, I'll call them harassment minimizers (HMs).

Sometimes, when the HMs are male and straight, they'll make some comment like "I don't know what you're complaining about, I'd be thrilled if whenever I walked down the street, groups of women would shout how hot I am and how much they want to have sex with me."

However, this is a flawed analogy.

What do we know about the harassers?  We know two things:

1.  They're harassing people.
2.   They're male (because they've only ever been male in my experience, and this conversation only ever happens with male HMs talking about male harassers).

We know nothing else about them because all the harassment is in the way of us knowing about their hopes and dreams and aspirations and deepest innermost souls.

If I were to evaluate the harassers as viable sexual candidates, I'd see one benign factor and one dealbreaker.  The fact that they're male is benign; the fact that they're harassers is a dealbreaker.

If a straight male HM were to evaluate the harassers as viable sexual candidates, he'd see one benign factor and one dealbreaker.  The fact that they're harassers is benign (since, being a harassment minimizer, he doesn't see harassment as a problem); the fact that they're male is a dealbreaker (since the HM is a straight male).

So the HM's analogy where he'd be happy to have women shouting at him in the street is flawed, because he's taking the one factor that's a dealbreaker for him and changing it to something that isn't a dealbreaker for him.

For the analogy to be sound, he needs to retain one dealbreaker factor and one benign factor.  Therefore, the more apt analogy would be to keep the characters and behaviours the same.  So a straight male HM trying to analogize himself into the shoes of someone being harassed by male harassers should also envision himself being harassed by male harassers.

To change the gender to female would be like if I said "I don't know why it bothers you to have strange men on the street loudly speculating on your sexual proclivities and rudely propositioning you, I'd be thrilled to have kind, gentle, charming, gallant men expressing their esteem for me in ways that I feel are wholly appropriate and not at all uncomfortable."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Things the Library Should Invent

1. Automatically set your holds list to "inactive" after you have a certain number of books in transit 

I add every single book that I think will be of passing interest to my library holds list, so I usually have somewhere between 40 and 50 books on the list. However, I don't want them all to come in at once, because I won't have time to read them all. So, once I have enough books checked out, I set all the remaining books on the list to "inactive". This means I keep my place in the hold queue for each book, but the library won't send it to me until I set it to "active" again. (If I should reach the front of any book's queue, the library will send it to the next person in the queue until I reactivate it.)

When I start running low on reading material, I reactivate my list. However, I still don't want all the books on the list to be waiting on the hold shelf for me, I only want a few at a time. This means that when my list is back in active mode, I have to monitor it throughout the day. Recently I reactivated my holds list with the intention of getting about 5 more items. However, I neglected to check it for about three hours, and when I finally did check it there were 10 items in transit for me, which is entirely too many since we can only keep them for 3 weeks and I do have a full-time job.

I would love for the library to provide the option of having your holds list automatically deactivate once you have a certain number of items in transit and on the hold shelf. This wouldn't be mandatory, of course, but I'd love to be able to tell the computer "Send me 5 more books - whatever comes in first - and then don't send me anything more until further notice."

2. List series name and number at the beginning of the book title field 

When I read a series, I add the whole thing to my holds list at once and set them all to inactive. Then, when I'm reactivating my holds queue, I only activate the next book in each series. This way I can read the books in order without having to wait for a long line for each.

The problem is that the title field of the library catalogue listings doesn't include the series number, or sometimes even the series name. So when I'm reactivating, I need to remember which series are in my list, google up the reading order for each, and scroll through my list of book titles to find the next book in each series.

 I'd like the library catalogue to list the series name and number at the beginning of each title, so it's visually obvious which titles belong to which series and what order they go in. You sort by title, and all the series are laid out for you.

 For example, I'm currently reading the Inspector Gamache series. The next book in line is listed in the library catalogue as "The cruellest month". This isn't informative - I don't know where it is in the series, and, when I'm scrolling through my whole holds list, I don't even know that it's part of the Inspector Gamache series as opposed to being a standalone novel. If, instead, they listed it in the title field as "Inspector Gamache #3: The cruellest month", it would be readily apparent what this book and whether or not I want to reactivate it at any given time.

I wonder if it might also be possible to combine these two ideas and tell the computer "Activate the next book in each series, plus all non-series books. Send me the first five that come in, and then deactivate everything." They'd need to put additional fields in their database for "Is this book part of a series?" "Series name" and "Series number", but that does seem like the sort of thing a database can handle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Things They Should Invent: baby improv

My Favourite Little Person, who turned 1 in November, loves to talk.  She holds forth at length about the issues of the day, uttering surprisingly long and complex sequences of phonemes, complete with modulation, intonation, and gesticulation, that have everything in common with fluent human speech except for the fact that I don't understand a word of it. However, it is great fun to have a conversation with her anyway, asking her questions, seeing how she responds, ascribing intention and motivation to her vocalizations.

It occurs to me that this would be a good improv game.

You put a babbly baby on stage with the improv players, and cast the baby in a key role in the scene.  For example, if the scene is set on a ship, the baby is the captain.  Then the other players have to play out the scene in response to whatever the baby happens to say or do.

It would have enormous entertainment value, although I suspect most parents aren't willing to volunteer their babies as props in improv shows.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Things eBay Should Invent: sort by price+shipping per unit

Normally, I sort eBay search results by price+shipping, lowest to highest.  However, sometimes there are some sellers who are selling only one of the item, whereas others are selling it in a pack of two or four.  The pack of four might be a better price per item, but it isn't going to show up on the first page of my search results.

I'd like eBay to provide the option of sorting search results by price+shipping per unit.  So if widgets cost $2 each (including shipping), but a lot of four widgets costs $7, the $7 lot of four will appear above the $2 single widgets.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Turns out the North is actually empty

A while back, I asked "Is the North actually empty?"  I'd seen maps that suggest large swaths of completely uninhabited land, and I was wondering whether they're genuinely empty or just sparsely populated.

Today I stumbled upon this cool map of North America showing a dot for every person reported in the Canada and US censuses.  Based on this map, it appears that large swaths of the North are actually completely devoid of human habitation.  You can zoom in and get a full page of white, with no dots whatsoever.

That's awesome, in both senses of the word.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Things They Should Study: proportion of childfree vs. non-childfree people who change their minds

I've blogged before about how I used to want to have children, but then grew up to realize that I am in fact childfree.

Conventional wisdom is that people who are childfree may well change their minds (which is why it's so hard for those of us who have never had kids to get sterilized), but I find myself wondering if it might be the opposite.

Your worldview is first formed by your surroundings when you're a kid.  You first think that your surroundings and experiences are baseline human reality, and then gradually your worldview broadens as you grow up and learn more.

And, when you're a kid, the primary adults in your life are, necessarily, adults who are raising children.  So your very first impression of what you consider to be baseline human reality is that adults raise kids.

To arrive at the idea that you never want to have or raise kids, you have to put thought into the matter and question the basic assumptions you grew up with and conceptualize a reality that you may never have actually witnessed.  Critical thought goes into it - it's not a decision made mindlessly.

Because of this, I wonder how many people who are childfree actually change their minds compared with those who previously wanted children and then changed their minds.  This would be interesting to research.

When the fans ruin a fandom

I've been watching and enjoying Big Bang Theory for several years (thank you Poodle!).  After I watch a new episode of any TV show, I like to have a look at TV review sites to see what they have to say.

Apparently, a while back, the TV show Community was scheduled in the same timeslot as Big Bang Theory.  When this happened, fans of Community started infesting the comment threads of Community reviews, dissing everyone for watching Big Bang Theory instead of Community.

I found this put me way off the idea of watching Community, especially since it was in the same timeslot as Big Bang Theory.  Why would I forgo something that I know I enjoy to watch something whose most remarkable feature that I've seen is that its fans go into spaces dedicated to discussing other shows and diss people for discussing the shows to which the spaces are dedicated?

However, the Comedy Network recently started airing Community in syndication, so I decided to watch it and see what all the fuss is about.  I found I enjoyed it, and I'm now caught up on the whole show.

But, even though I enjoy the show, I have no interest in participating in the fandom because of the fans who kept intruding upon Big Bang Theory space.  Because my experience with the fandom is people who come barging in on something I'm enjoying and dissing me for enjoying it and telling me to do something different instead, I don't want to spend time with those people or participate in their activities.

Not only that, but the annoyance of the Community fans who ran around intruding upon and dissing Big Bang Theory fans has triggered my "Don't let them win" reaction.  Even though I enjoy Community, I now wouldn't even consider signing a petition to save the show, because I don't want this assholic fan behaviour to get results.  And, if Community once again airs opposite Big Bang Theory, I will watch Big Bang Theory in my time zone and Community time-shifted, just to spite them.

Things Google Should Invent: show the number of results with verbatim search

Way back in university, one of my translation profs mentioned a concept called a "Google vote".  If you're trying to figure out which of several constructions is more commonly used, a quick and dirty method is to do a Google search for each and see which one has the most hits.  It isn't always 100% reliable (Sometimes there are regionalisms, and sometimes a sequence of words doesn't mean what you intend it to mean. For example, when I was researching this post and googling for "prom baby",  most of the hits were "Prom, baby!")

Since then, Google has become more flexible in response to search terms, using conjugations and declensions and synonyms in an attempt to help lead users to what they're looking for.  All of which is useful if you're searching for information, but less useful if you're using Google as a linguistic corpus.

Fortunately, Google has also introduced the Verbatim search function.  Do your search normally, then, on the results page, click on "Search Tools".  Then, under "All results", select "Verbatim".  This makes Google search for exactly what you typed, without trying to help you.

For example, the inspiration of this post is that I was trying to figure out if the present indicative of the verb that gives us "dissing" and "dissed" is "dis" or "diss".  Normally, Google results would show them interchangeably on the assumption that they're both intended to mean the same thing.  So, to do a Google vote, I used the Verbatim functions so I would only get results for "dis" or "diss", not for both.

The problem is that Google doesn't show the number of results on the Verbatim search results page like it does on other search pages, which renders my Google vote useless.  This is particularly irritating because the vast majority of the times I use the Verbatim function, the hit count is part of the information I'm seeking.

Dear Google: please put the hit count on all results pages, just in case someone needs it.  You know the number of hits, so why not just serve it up?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What bugs me about Apple products

What I don't like about Apple devices is that whenever I have trouble with them, there's very few things to do.  With PCs, there's always at least half a dozen options, ranging from rebooting to tinkering in the registry, but with every Apple problem I've had it's always power off and back on, do a restore, and go to the genius bar, who inevitably tell me they can't do hardware support because isn't a new device.

That's my second annoyance - hardware support and spare parts simply cannot be obtained through official channels for non-new devices, not even for money.  In contrast, Dell is quite happy to sell me spare parts and tech support for anything I've ever bought from them, even if it's out of warranty.  They don't always have the best prices, but they're at least willing to provide it.  At Apple that isn't even an option - the best they can do is give you a discount on a new device or a replacement of the same kind of device.

This focus on novelty also extends, most irritatingly, to software and operating systems.  If you restore your ipod, it automatically installs the latest software, and there's no possibility of rolling it back.  If one of your apps isn't compatible with the new iOS or it's otherwise worse than the previous version, you're stuck.  In comparison, Windows lets you uninstall any updates and service packs without even having to do a system restore (although that's totally an option).  I could even take my old Windows 98 CD and install Windows 98 on my current computer.  Microsoft wouldn't support it any more, but it's not like they have technological measures in place to stop me.

Apple's general philosophy seems to be that the products are intended to just work without the end user having to worry about fixing them. But I've had my fair share of problems, and not being able to get at the guts like I can with my PCs is irritating.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why would you write a newspaper article if you don't have enough to say?

Recently in the news: school board director Chris Spence plagiarized parts of an article he wrote for the Toronto Star.

Here's what I don't get: if he had to resort to plagiarism, why was he writing a newspaper article in the first place?  Unlike students who plagiarize, he didn't have to write an article.  It wasn't an assignment.  He wouldn't flunk if he didn't do it.  Unlike Margaret Wente, it wasn't his job.  He has a whole job that, I'm sure, keeps him fully occupied. How did it even occur to him to write an article if he had so little to say that he had to plagiarize?

I'm pretty sure that people have to proactively submit op-eds to newspapers rather than the newspaper soliciting them, so he could have just not done it and no one would have noticed.  Even if the paper did solicit an article from him, he could have just said "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I'm just too busy with my duties as director of TDSB to write an article.  However, I'd be happy to give an interview."

So why did he do it?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Poll: how old were you when you first learned about abortion?

How old were you when you first learned that abortion is a thing that exists, and in what context did you learn about it?

I'm asking because I've heard stories of people (especially, but not limited to, catholic school teachers), both in the present day and when my peers were kids, lecturing kids about the evils of abortion when the kids were at an age when I myself hadn't yet even heard of abortion, and I find myself wondering if these lectures would end up teaching the kids that it's even an option.

I don't remember exactly when I first learned about it.  I know it wasn't specifically mentioned in the sex ed I received from my parents or my schools, and I can extrapolate from what I know of my learning curve that it wasn't in my sex ed book.

I learned how pregnancy happens around the age of 8 or 9, I reached menarche at 10, and I learned (on a theoretical level, fortunately) that rape exists at 10 as well.  So, starting at the age of 10, I had a quietly ever-present fear of being forced to gestate my rapist's baby, and hadn't the slightest clue that pregnancies could be terminated.  (I was thinking solely in terms of a rapist because I was still years away from being able to even imagine wanting to have sex voluntarily, even in a distant and hypothetical future.)

Several years later, I read something (I don't remember if it was an article or a work of fiction) where a girl who was pregnant thought that if she skipped rope for hours and hours, she'd have a miscarriage.  (I don't remember if she actually tried it or if it actually worked.)  This was my first exposure to the idea that miscarriage could be induced.  I was relieved to learn that such a thing might be remotely possible, and started brainstorming other ways to force myself to miscarry so I wouldn't have to gestate my rapist's baby.  I considered the possibility of simply stopping eating and drinking, thinking that if it didn't cause a miscarriage it would at least kill me, and, by extension, also gave some thought to suicide as a solution.  I was probably under the age of 16 when this happened, because I don't remember looking up ways to induce miscarriage on the internet and I'm pretty sure I would have if I'd had internet access at the time.

I became aware of the existence of abortion, as a medical procedure, sometime before the end of high school.  Weirdly, I don't remember any single moment of relief at the realization that you can just go somewhere and get it done professionally. There was a time when I knew it existed but didn't know the details of the laws governing its accessibility (I remember mentally debating whether it would be more effective to tell the doctor that I would commit suicide if I couldn't have an abortion or to actually attempt suicide, completely unaware that you don't need to convince them of that particular level of desperation) but I figured it out by the time I was in university.

All of which is to say that if, in middle school or early high school, someone had lectured me about the evils of abortion, they would have been teaching me that it is possible to end a pregnancy and that it is possible to do so with a proper medical procedure.  And if someone had taken my child or teenage self to an abortion clinic to protest, they would have taught me "This is where you can go to get an abortion."  It's likely this information is more accessible to the youth of today, but some of the stories I heard that inspired this post were about people who were older than me, who surely would have learned a thing or two about how to get an abortion if lectured on the evils of doing so in Grade 6.

What about you?  When and how did you learn that abortion exists?  If people had lectured your young teenage self on the evils of abortion, would they have been teaching you about its existence?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Things They Should Study: does exercise have the same benefits for those whom it angers?

There's a lot of research about how exercise is allegedly good for non-physical things, like mood or cognition. 

Articles about this research often state as a given that exercise makes you feel good emotionally and boosts your mood.

However, for me, exercise makes me angry with no positive mental or emotional effects. I've blogged about this before, and over the years it has attracted the attention of others who are angered by exercise.

Someone should study whether exercise has the same alleged non-physical benefits for people whom it angers as it does for the general population.  What if being made angry by exercise is a sign that it doesn't have those benefits for you?